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Friday, 10 June 2011

Review Round-Up: Paul; Trailer Park Of Terror; Green Lantern - Emerald Knights

Paul (2011): Given the geek comedy credentials of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz), you'd expect great things from a self-penned tale of two British geeks taking a road-trip from San Diego Comic-Con to America's UFO "hot spots" who pick up a real-life alien called Paul along the way.

Well, you'd be disappointed.

It's not that the comedy particularly misfires, it's simply that there isn't much.

Most of what's there is funny, but Paul is very patchy - especially when compared to such clever and iconic work as Shaun Of The Dead and Spaced.

Aside from the incredibly well-realised, foul-mouthed, weed-smoking, grey alien himself (voiced by Seth Rogan), Paul is pretty standard wacky road-trip fare, with the usual encounters, cameos and chase scenes along the way.

There's some pretty hardcore mockery of Christian fundamentalism, but that's really shooting fish in a barrel, isn't it? And why would the appearance of an alien immediately shatter someone's belief in God? Could He not have created them as well?.

Except for some suggestions that US government had been seeding Paul's image into popular culture over many decades to prepare mankind for the arrival of aliens, there's very little of intelligence and sly observations usually found underlying Pegg/Frost collaborations.

With obvious homages to Close Encounters of The Third Kind and E.T. (including a vocal cameo from Steven Spielberg himself), the script has its fair share of geeky references - although some are shoe-horned in quite clumsily - and you can't help wondering how much self-indulgence went into this film? Just how badly did Pegg and Frost want to be on the stage at Comic-Con and get in a fist-fight with Sigourney Weaver?

Certainly enjoyable, with some inspired moments and great comedy swearing from Born Again Atheist Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), Paul, out on DVD on Monday, just isn't the comedy gold we would have hoped for.

Trailer Park Of Terror (2008): Trying to escape her trailer trash life, Norma (Nichole Hiltz) has got herself a townie boyfriend, only the local bullies accidentally kill him and so Norma storms off, strikes a deal with The Devil (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Stephen King's Randall Flagg aka The Walkin' Dude aka The Man In Black), returns to the trailer park and kills everyone and burns down the park with herself in it.

Twenty years later a minibus of juvenile delinquents, returning from Bible camp with their chaperone, Pastor Lewis (Matthew Del Negro) crashes in a rain storm and they seek shelter in the seemingly abandoned trailer park.

However, they are greeted by Norma, who offers to put them up for the night and that's when they discover they are in the Trailer Park Of Terror (bwahahahahaha!)

This 90-minute horror starts off promisingly enough, but once the ghost-zombies start to arrive it degenerates into a very by-the-numbers gorefest - with the "final girl" telegraphed from the moment she appears, as the only one of the young reprobates with any degree of personality and charm.

A strange brew, borrowing elements from sources as diverse as torture-porn and Nightmare On Elm Street (several of the kiddies are offed in ways appropriate to their single character-defining quirks), things further spin out of control with musical numbers (courtesy of an annoying zombie with a guitar - a gimmick that grows old very fast) and a strange demolition derby climax!

By letting the story initially unfold chronologically, thus letting us see the inciting incident that creates the supernatural horror (facts usually discovered in the course of horror film, rather than at the start), I thought Trailer Park Of Terror was going to put a new spin on this kind of "teenagers trapped in the middle of nowhere by flesh-eating monsters" movie.

Sadly it doesn't and even the half-hearted attempt at a twist ending is fumbled. Apparently the movie was based on a comic book series and clearly this ending was a stab at leaving the door open for a sequel.

Green Lantern - Emerald Knights (2011): Seemingly having no connection to 2009's First Flight (as Sinestro is still a Green Lantern) and instead released to preempt the big screen Ryan Reynolds' blockbuster (that hits cinemas next week), Emerald Knights is five random stories about the Green Lantern Corps strung around a central plot of an invasion from the Anti-Matter Universe.

The stories - each roughly 10-minutes long, but feeling much longer - initially appear as pointless distractions to the main thread, until you realise that's the nature of this particular beast.

Do we really care that the first Lantern was a scribe who, bizarrely when facing overwhelming odds, discovered that the sword was mightier than the pen (a theme of all these tales is that problems can be resolved through violence) or that tough nut drill instructor Killowog's own drill instructor was actually even more of a hard ass?

Matters aren't helped when it comes to good narrative flow that the Green Lantern rings are stupidly powerful and truly capable of almost anything - taking out whole fleets of space ships with one sweep of a green beam, for instance - and that very little is actually a threat to the Corps.

That's why the best Green Lantern stories in the comics, although they feature combat, aren't just about fighting, but this stringing together of short stories - with no room for character empathy or growth - has to go for the quick fix of punching and blasting through to each conclusion.

In the third story - about some elf Green Lantern - after the second successive fight sequence we even get a flashback story within the story to yet another fight scene.

Now I love a good fictional combat as much as the next comic book reading, gaming geek, but I need some context for it that means something to me, I need to be invested in the conflict and feel some emotional attachment. But that is totally lacking here and, frankly, it very quickly gets boring.

Only one of these side stories - all being told to new Green Lantern recruit Arisa (voiced by Elisabeth Moss) - contributes anything to the main story of Krona's interdimensional attack and, pretty quickly, you actually forget that that is (supposedly) the central plot of Emerald Knights.

The best of these distractions (and the only one eventually relevant to the job at hand) is Mogo Doesn't Socialize - an almost verbatim lift of Alan Moore's original story (from Green Lantern #185, May 1985) about the most powerful of all the Green Lanterns - but once you know the twist of this 'one-joke' Lantern, the impact is rather undermined.

It's still a good joke though!

Moore's writing also heavily influenced the final side-story, about Hal Jordan's predecessor Abin Sur (Arnold Vosloo) and a barely recognisable Atrocious (Bruce Thomas), whose prophecy of the fall of Sinestro (Jason Isaacs) is wasted in this context, as is Arisa's passing reference to the "Blackest Night".

Admittedly the sight of giant Krona standing on Oa's sun is suitably epic, but it's only as Hal Jordan (voiced by geek god Nathan Fillion) and Arisa are flying off at the end of the movie that you realise one of the major flaws with Emerald Knights is although Jordan tells several of the stories, he only appears in the main arc... and that seems a total waste.

Given that this 84-minute slugfest was strung together by some of the biggest names in comics (Geoff Johns, Marc Guggenheim, Peter J Tomasi, Dave Gibbons etc), it seems to have squandered its biggest resources - namely the collective talents of both its writers and its voice artists - by concentrating simply on the most simplistic aspect of the Green Lanterns' remit: combat.

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